“Taugenichts” (good-for-nothing), this is what Pr Wieck (alias Dr Raro) thinks of Robert Schumann, his former disciple who has set his mind on marrying the young Clara, daughter of the said professor, and little prodigy at the piano in whom Friedrich Wieck inculcated what he considered the essence of piano playing, i.e. the command of mechanics from which all fantasy is to be banned, even if not all of the difficulties can be resolved by finger prowess alone, as will soon be realized by the young virtuoso: “the less I play in public, the more I begin to detest this mechanical virtuosity” (Marriage Diaries of Robert and Clara Schumann, 15-08-1841).
“Taugenichts” indeed, according to the same Pr Wieck, this fugitive from a provincial bookshop in Zwickau (Saxony) fed on poets and potatoes, a beer-drinker and cigar-smoker with very long hair, running after the Rote Hanne (Red Hannah, op. 31, n° 3), and trying to write under the pseudonym “Robert von der Mulde”, hesitating between studying law or music, wavering between keyboard virtuosity and composer's anguish (“All my life I have considered vocal music as beneath instrumental music and never regarded it as great art,” affirms Robert Schumann in 1839). By the end of 1840, under the influence of Schubert, Mendelssohn, and especially of Clara Wieck, he will have composed over 140 Lieder, among them opus 39 on poems by Eichendorff (“the most romantic of all my music, containing a great deal of you”, he admits to Clara), and opus 48 on poems by Heine; and he adds: “I would love to sing myself out of breath, like a nightingale”, thus acknowledging, in terms of roulades, that he prefers German nightingales to Italian canaries (“oh, Clara, what a divine pleasure writing lieder! I have abstained from it all too long”).
A “Taugenichts” as sentimental as Sterne, living from the imagination, pleasing himself in tears (Ich hab' im Traum geweinet, op. 48, n° 13), as melancholy as Shakespeare's Jaques (Wehmut, op., n° 9), as readily in love as the Scot Rabby Burns (Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, op. 48, n° 3), as tangled in his Saxon dialect as Gurth the swineherd who listens to the riddles of the buffoon Wamba in the Ivanhoe of Walter Scott (one of the young Clara's favourite authors); a “Taugenichts” who sticks the picture of Napoleon on the walls of his room and inserts fragments from the Marseillaise into his Faschingsschwank aus Wien, op. 26 or in Die beiden Grenadiere, op.49 who travels on foot through Tyrol, Switzerland, Italy (from Milan where he will hear la Pasta sing, as far as Venice), who admires gothic ruins, cathedrals, and the Rhine in its majesty (Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome, op. 48, n° 6), who only thinks about joining the university of Heidelberg and its “vat” (Die alten bösen Lieder, op. 48, n° 16) where he is eagerly awaited by his friend Gisbert Rosen, a law student to whom Schumann writes on 5th June 1828: “Leipzig is a vile little borough where one cannot live gaily” and also: “Perhaps at this moment you are sitting on the mountain, in the ruins of the old castle, smiling happily at all the flowers of the month of June (Frühlingsnacht, op. 39,n° 12), whilst I am standing amongst the ruins of the castles in Spain which I have built, sighing, and contemplating present and future in the sombre sky” (Zwielicht, op. 39, n° 10).
“Taugenichts” again, this tall young man who enjoys the romantic poets, the Müller, Arnim, Jean-Paul Richter, Uhland, Schiller, the brothers Grimm, Mörike, if not Goethe, because they return to him in their narrations like Brentano and his Des Knaben Wunderhorn (the Child's marvellous Horn) or in their semi-popular songs, the best part of his found-again childhood, and this spirit of music which only Clara will be able to tame (Und wüßten's die Blumen, die kleinen, op. 48, n° 8), a Clara who, for the moment, loves cherries — she will later appreciate the strawberries (kloubnikou) of Moscow —, charades and stories about doubles, blue dresses or black velvet ones as in concert, Saxon Switzerland and its precipices, the countryside of Connewitz, Weber's Waltz, Paris, the Overture to Don Juan by Mozart (“who succeeds so well with the most simple, the most modest means” and “dear Mozart! how he must have loved the world; how he warms the heart. I have never heard anything at all by him which did not put me in a good mood, and this must happen to all those who understand him.”); but who, above all, loves her piano (Graf, of Vienna), and this “rascal” Robert with the blue eyes (“when I began to love my Robert deep inside, then for the first time did I really feel what I was playing”), to the point of worrying that she might hurt him with her kisses (Diaries, 16-12-1840).
Clara (Wieck) Schumann
Clara who consequently cannot but madly appreciate the Lieder by Robert Schumann, lieder which — additional love token — she will even try to sing accompanying herself, in order to give them their true raison d'être (“I have played and sung many of Robert's Lieder in a very positive way ... what richness of imagination, what profound emotion in these Lieder”, Diaries, 26-09-1840), in this way deliberately ignoring the Wilhelmine Schroeder-Devrient, Elise List, Sophie Schloss, Henriette Sontag-Rossi (“this musical antichrist”, according to R. Schumann, and whom Hector Berlioz compares to the lark at the gate of Paradise), Jenny Lind (the Swedish Nightingale) or other darlings of the era like Pauline Garcia and her “Gretchen am Spinnrade”, that she sang one day — accompanied by others — “more in order to satisfy the public's expectation, than actually at the heart of this intimate radiance so magnificently expressed by the words as well as by Schubert's music” (Diaries, 29-09-1840).
“Taugenichts” , if one likes, but a “Taugenichts” similar to the hero of Joseph Karl Benedikt Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788-1857), hero in whom Robert Schumann found his double, the Frohe Wandersmann (the Merry Traveller) :
“Wem Gott will rechte Gunst erweisen,
Den schickt er in die weite Welt ;”
(To whom God wants to show favour,
He sends him into the wide world),
in search of the people's soul which stirs at the heart of the Volkslied — song of the people, “ark of the covenant between the old times and the new ones ... guardian of the temple of national memories” in the words of Mickiewicz (Hör' ich das Liedchen klingen, op. 48, n° 10) — whose first and foremost function seems to be to awaken compassion before prompting reflection on the real nature of society and of justice, all the while enabling the imagination to take refuge far from a world considered imperfect, devoid of poetry, thrown as food to the materialism of the rising bourgeoisie, and unworthy of the marvellous distant parts (In der Fremde, op. 39, n° 1) of the “Lusatia” (as Robert Schumann says in his letter to Rosen, dated June 1828), the land of the Wendes, a Slav population who for a long time preserved choral societies for men or choirs of young girls doing the round-dance to the harmonious sounds of the husla or of the tarakawa whereas the grandmothers spun tales of fairies or magicians in their coarse dialect (The Slav language was spoken for a long time in the streets of Leipzig), tales which — through Robert — even reached the tender ears of the young Clara.
“Taugenichts” like those men of the countryside of Lubowicz-Ratibor (Upper Silesia) whose soul is in constant harmony with the serenity of evenings that fall and the moon that rises above fields undulating in the breeze (Mondnacht, op. 39, n° 5), or the rustling forests where the “double” Lorelei (Waldesgespräch, op. 39, n° 3), gambols in concord with the eternal dawn (l'alba of the Troubadours ?) towards which Die Lerche (the lark) throws herself vertiginously far above the Oder which Eichendorff crossed swimming, for lack of the nocturnal nightingale who murmurs to Juliet (Intermezzo, op. 39, n° 2) the ecstatic song of a youth which, with age, will fall silent again, forgetting for ever this worldly enchantment which nature sometimes throws over those who have fallen under its charms (Die Stille, op. 39, n° 4).
“Taugenichts-Eichendorff”, Prussian civil servant from 1816 to 1844, driven out of the ancestral castle of Lubowicz (25 windows overlooking the park) as a result of family misfortunes, will be reduced to raising funds for the completion of the works on Cologne cathedral or the restoration of Marienburg castle near Dantzig, former seat of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order of Knights, that is to say symbol of Prussian unity and of German culture; a “Taugenichts-Eichendorff” who thus escapes the gratuitously picturesque and these shades of compassion applied on oneself (were not the Wendes weavers?) and found so often in the “Volkslieder”, but not in the “volkstümliche Lieder” (whose semi-scholarly history is well-known), and this at the time of baroque Silesia and its castles which are rusting like the armour of the petrified knight of Auf einer Burg (op. 39, n° 7), thus avoiding the pitfalls of the Singvogel Natur, and its interminable “roulades à l'italienne” before melting into a romanticism of a new stuff, made of a succession of impressions of places or events on a spirit still in harmony with them.
“Taugenichts” therefore, this Robert Schumann — Don Quichotte of the soul — melting together into a new sonorous metal, and into a unique musical style, Baroque and Romanticism (this latter movement according to Goethe's judgment something revolutionary and unhealthy), in quest of an Eldorado that would resemble the song of the people, this “something which moves itself in an indescribable way, which suddenly without transition changes into its exact opposite” (Im Walde, op. 39, n° 11), something to which the “dilettante” Heine will equally subscribe when trying to find again the lost organic relation between art and life or struggling to bring out of the wood the truth of man hidden behind the masks of Carnaval or Intermezzo.
To Heinrich Heine, Roman Apollo for Théophile Gautier, Greek Christ for others, some will erect a statue signed Hasselrijs, others will harass his image of stone such as wanted by Elisabeth of Austria (Sissi) on Corfu and which — from Hamburg to Toulon, via the director of the Folies Bergères, will experience many vicissitudes.
Heinrich Heine's mother spoke Hebrew, Latin, Greek whilst he himself learnt the rudiments of the French language with Rataplan-Legrand, the Drummer of the Grande Armée (thrown into the Heine family by means of a lodging order at the time of the French occupation) who explained the word “Liberté” by drumming the Marseillaise, the word “Egalité” by beating the Ça ira, and who was to inculcate in the young Heinrich the cult of the “grand Empereur” (thus Robert Schumann will designate him in his poems of Moscow) whose “lips only had to whistle and Prussia did not exist any more; they only had to whistle, these lips, and the Vatican collapsed” — in the absence of French politeness (ô Freud!), of the language of La Fontaine, of the boutiques at Quai Voltaire, of the elegance of the Parisian ladies (little seamstresses, the “grisette” Mathilde, alias Crescence Eugénie Mirat among them, and illustrious lionesses), of the good manners of the Salons, synonyms of social equality (this equality which Robert and Clara Schumann were not to recognize until on board the ship which brought them back from their Russian tour), not to mention the fashionable authors of the day: the Dumas, Balzac, Gérard de Nerval, Sainte-Beuve, George Sand, Béranger or the philosophers Hegel and Marx, who, always in the name of Equality, strengthened his Saint-Simonisme, in addition to the French painters who showed him the way to Freedom, like Delacroix in the Salon of 1831 whose very signature would storm, apparently, against the Barricade.
Zwickau vom Muldenufer
A discord that Robert Schumann will accept as his own, in advance: “Do not revolt at the thought that there are so many tears in life. Do you renounce the dissonances and the minor chords in music, do you not love them? The ones and the others bring us heavenly pleasures...” as Gustav said, Schumann's mouth-piece in the fragments of a novel he wrote around 1825, echoing thereby precisely, more or less consciously the eternal Don Juan by Mozart who “in the great finale of the first act, when 3 orchestras enter one after the other, each playing a piece different in character and time which are blended together symphonically, Mozart wants that the second and the third orchestra begin their parts by imitating musicians who are tuning their instruments: accordano. This effect is always neglected or lost”, as Louis Viardot will underline in his article: “Manuscrit autographe du Don Giovanni de Mozart (Mozart's handwritten manuscript of his Don Giovanni), january 1856”.
Thus uniting the Hellene and the Nazarene, Eusebius and Florestan, the distant Beloved and Chiara-Cherubino, “Taugenichts-Schumann”, like Eichendorff's “Merry Wanderer” or the valiant miller of Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin (The beautiful Miller's Daughter), will go as far as Moscow, if not Endenich, if not later as far as Volgograd where one can still hear his Träumerei (Dreaming) even “at the hour when empires break up” (Jer. li. 20), not to forget Sebezh, on the Russo-Livonian border (o Jules Verne!) where suddenly bursts forth in the corridor of a train halted in the dawn of a spring morning (Im wunderschönen Monat Mai, op. 48, n° 1) a distant Widmung, by way of offering to all these “Taugenichts” gone to conquer a world which escapes them incessantly (Allnächtlicht im Traume, op. 48, n° 14) and which — unknowingly and with the help of appropriate musical keys — they have already reached at the peril of their “resounding” reason, a universe of light-years (o “Lichtpunkt” - point of light - thus Madam Schumann-mother called her Robert) in this so-called order of a world which, they say, would be progressing non-stop towards the most triumphant felicity (Aus alten Märchen winkt es, op. 48, n° 15).
“Posterity will consider us as of one heart, one soul”, Robert Schumann wrote to Clara Wieck in a letter of 1838 (independently of all the Ich grolle nicht, op. 48, n° 7, of this world), perhaps as a synonym of an absolute dialogue, if not indissoluble identity which constitute the incomparable value of these timeless Lieder, vocal jewels set into their pianistic case. Would this not be the best possible “Widmung” (dedication) for the concert of 26 february 1992 at the Robert-Schumann-Haus in Zwickau? Well then, as they say down there: “Glück auf !”.
CLAUDE D'ESPLAS - The Music Lesson
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED